Bear, Otter, & the Kid 03 - The Art of Breathing (7 page)

I clear my throat. I wrap my arms tighter around me. “Yeah, I’m in here,” I say, my voice high. I cough. “I’ll b-be out in a b-bit.”

Silence.

Then: “What are you doing?”

“I’m in the b-b-
bathroom
.”

“You sound funny.”

“Thanks. Can you l-leave me alone?” My voice comes out like I’m begging, and I can’t stop it.

“Your voice,” he says.

I wait.

“It’s echoing.”

I say nothing.

“Ty?” He sounds pained. “Are you in the bathtub?”

I twist to lie on my back so my voice rises instead of hitting the sides of the tub. “No. Jesus, Bear,
go away
.” Leave me alone. Just leave me alone. I take a shallow breath. It hurts.

“No,” he says, and I groan. “I’m not leaving until I see you.”

“I’ll be out in a
minute
,” I snap at him.

“You forget.”

“What?”

“That I know you. I know you better than anyone.” He opens the door. I close my eyes and try to collapse in on myself so I’ll just disappear. I try to stop shaking but I can’t, because I am so fucking cold.

“No,” he moans. “Ty? Oh, honey, oh please.”

It only takes him a second before he’s in the tub with me, curled up against my back, pulling me into his arms, wrapping himself around me. It’s a bit of a struggle; we don’t fit in here like we used to when I was just a little guy. But somehow, someway, he makes it work, like he always does.

“What’s wrong?” he asks me, trying to warm me. “What happened?”

The worry in his voice is almost my undoing. The anger on my behalf is almost my breaking point. God, does he know how strong he is? How solid? I am nothing like him. I am weak and scared and little. I want to be like my brother, but I don’t know how. I don’t even know where to start.

“Just got a little scared, I g-guess,” I say, trying to keep my voice even. “It g-got hard to breathe.”

“Earthquakes?” he murmurs.

I nod once and grab his hand, holding it to me close. He splays his fingers out against my chest. He must feel my jack-rabbiting heart.

“I’m sorry,” I say, trying to distract him, distract myself.

“For what?”

“This. All of this. I thought I was better. I thought I had this under control.”

“You don’t need to apologize. Do you hear me? Ever, Kid. You don’t need to apologize
ever
.”

I wish I could believe him. “I don’t know how to fix me,” I whisper. “I don’t want to be like this anymore. I don’t want to be scared. I don’t want to have to come in here. I don’t want this, Bear.”

He kisses the back of my head. “I know. We’ll figure this out. I’ll make it all okay. Somehow.”

He sounds upset and I want to apologize again, but somehow, I keep it down. Instead, I open my mouth and make it worse. “Probably wish she’d taken me with her, huh?” There’s no question as to who I mean.

Bear stiffens behind me. “What?”

“Mom. Do you… do you wish sometimes that she took me with her when she left? It would’ve been easier for you. You wouldn’t have to deal with… all of this.”

“I’m going to say this once and only once,” he grinds out furiously. “Are you listening, Tyson?”

“Yeah,” I manage to say.

“Things might have sucked. Things might have been hard. Things might have seemed like they were dark and that we’d never make it through. But we did. Me and you. That’s all there was for the longest time, and we survived. Without you, there would have been no me. Otter may have my heart, but you are my
soul
. So, no, I don’t wish that. No, it’s never crossed my mind. No, I will never leave you and I will never let you go. You are stuck with me for the rest of your life, and if you
ever
ask me a question like that again, I swear to
God
you will see me angry like you’ve never seen before. You get me?”

I can’t speak.

He shakes me. “
You get me
?”

“Yes. Oh. Bear. I can’t… I can’t
breathe
.”

“Hear me, okay? Remember what Eddie taught you. What we’re supposed to do. Just focus on me, okay?”

I nod, starting to struggle.

“In. Breathe in. Just breathe, Kid. All you need to do is breathe.”

I can’t. I can’t get the air in.

“You can,” he says, like he can hear my thoughts. “You can because I know you can. Just breathe in with me, okay?”

Somehow, I try. For him, I’ll do anything.

“Good. Hold it for three seconds. One.”

What does she have that I don’t?

“Two.”

I know him better. He loves me more.

“Three. Let it out with me.”

I exhale.

“Hold it for three seconds. One.”

Doesn’t he need me?

“Two.”

Why won’t he ask me to stay?

“Three. Good, Kid. In and hold. One.”

I want him to be happy.

“Two.”

Why can’t he be happy with just me?

“Three. And Out. Good. One.”

He sees me. He sees me like no one else can. Not even Bear.

“Two.”

And I see him. I see him so clearly.

“Three. Now. Tell me what happened.”

And it floods out. “I saw Stacey and Dom kissing in the hall, and it felt weird to see, because he should only be seeing me because he’s
my
friend and
I
found him first. He only needs to tell things to
me
and why can’t he see that? Why can’t he see that he should tell me everything? He didn’t tell me about
her
. He didn’t tell me that he liked
her.
He kept it from me, and it feels like he lied. But I can’t blame him, because look how I reacted. Look at what happened. He tried to protect me like he always does, and I hate him. I hate him for it. I hate every part of him because he’s going to leave me. He’s not asking me to stay because he wants me to leave. He wants me to leave so he can go on and live his life without a little kid hanging on to him. He wants me to go so he can have a home.” I’m starting to get worked up again, knowing how harsh my words sound and, saying them aloud, how untrue they are. Nothing I’ve just said describes Dom. Nothing I’ve said is who he is. This is not on him. This is on me.

“But you don’t believe that, do you?” Bear asks, again proving he knows me better than I know myself.

“I don’t know.”

“Kid.”

“No. Okay? No. No, I don’t believe that. I’m scared, but I don’t believe that. Not really. Not completely. It’s just all messed up in my head and I can’t focus, Bear. Why can’t I focus?” I start to pant again.

“Easy. Breathe. Just breathe.”

I do. Bear rubs my chest, and I do.

“I’m scared, Bear.”

“About what?”

“Everything. The future. Leaving him behind.”

“Can I be honest?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too. I’m scared too.”

“Why’re you scared?”

He sighs. “Because I don’t know if I’m doing right by you. I don’t know if I’m doing right by Otter. I’m worried about uprooting our lives and going clear across the country. I’m worried that I might never want what Otter wants. I’m scared that you’re going to grow up and I won’t be ready to let you go. I’m scared that you’re going to want to go live your life away from me and I don’t know if I can handle that. I don’t know if I can stand to not see you every day.”

I laugh a watery bark. “We’re just a codependent mess, aren’t we?”

He chuckles. “The worst. We should probably still be in therapy.”

“We’re stuck with each other, huh?”

“Yeah, Kid. Me and you.”

“Forever?”

He hesitates.

“Forever,” I insist.

“Yeah. Forever, Ty. We’ve made it this long, what’s the rest of our lives?”

“Bear?”

“Yeah?”

“I never wanted to go with her. With Mom. Never. Not once. I only wanted to be here with you.”

“I know. And I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

There is a pause. “Introducing Stacey to Dominic. I didn’t know it would hit you that hard. I didn’t know they’d even hit it off.”

My heart is sore, but it doesn’t matter. Not now. “It’s okay,” I whisper. “I don’t care what else happens, as long as he’s happy, you know?” And that is the truth. This is the decision, the choice I make. I’d rather have part of his heart than none of it.

Bear’s quiet, but I can tell he’s thinking hard. “Kid?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you… you and him… are you in l—” He stops himself.

“What?”

“Never mind,” my brother says. “It’s not important.”

“Bear?” A voice calls from the open doorway. A low sound that causes gooseflesh to ripple over my skin. “Can I speak with Tyson?”

Just breathe.

Bear shifts behind me and rises up. “Now might not be the best time, Dominic,” he says, his voice tight.

“I understand that,” Dom growls. “And if you’d like, I can rephrase it so it’s me telling you instead of asking you.”

They glare at each other until I roll my eyes. “Knock it off,” I tell both of them. “Bear, it’s okay.”

He looks down at me like he doesn’t believe me.

“It’ll just be a minute,” I tell him. “I’ve got something to tell you, anyway.” And I do. But it can wait a bit longer.

Bear nods and helps me sit up in the bathtub. I bring my knees to my chest as he leans down and kisses my hair. His hand trails off my shoulder as he steps out of the tub. He glances over his shoulder at me before he faces Dom. “A word, please?” he says, jerking his head toward the door.

Dom nods reluctantly and follows Bear out the bathroom.

“How much did you hear?” Bear hisses at him, trying to be quiet, but his voice echoes off the tile in the bathroom.

“Enough,” Dom rumbles. “Enough to know….”

“It doesn’t matter what you know. It doesn’t matter what you
think
. All that matters is my brother in there. All that matters is that he’s
fifteen years old
and still feels earthquakes.
That’s
the only thing that matters.”

“I know.”

“I’ll give you five minutes, Dom. Five. Don’t you upset him again, or you and me are going to have a problem.”

Overprotective, Bear is. I hear him stomp away.

Dom sighs.

I wait.

He turns into the bathroom and walks toward me until he kneels at the side of the tub, resting his hands on the edge. He drops his head until his chin hits the back of his hands and we’re at eye level. I don’t look away.

“I didn’t mean for you to see that,” he says finally. “Downstairs.”

I snort. “That’s… I don’t know what that is.”

“It just happened.”

“It looks like it’s
been
happening.” I wait for him to deny it so I can call him on it.

He doesn’t. “Yeah” is all he says.

“Do you love her?”

He looks startled. “What?”

“Do you love her?”

“I’ve only known her a couple weeks.”

I cock my head at him. “What does that have to do with anything?”

He smiles at me, like I’ve amused him. “No, Ty. I don’t love her.”

“Why not?”

“Because. She’s not… I already have….” He sighs. “It’s not important.”

“But it could be.”

He shrugs. “I don’t know, Tyson.”

“You should still see her,” I tell him, though my heart breaks.

“Why?”

“Because she makes you smile.”

“A lot of things make me smile. Doesn’t mean I need them. I won’t, Ty. I won’t do it again. I won’t see her again.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want it to lead to this,” he says, patting the bathtub. “I can’t let this happen to you. Not again. Not under my watch.”

Instantly, I feel like the world’s biggest asshole. How could I have ever thought he didn’t love me? How could I have ever thought he’d sacrifice nothing for me? That’s not who Dom is. Dom has given me everything. The least I can do is deserve it. “No,” I say. “You don’t get to do that. Not because of me.”

“Ty, I’ve already made up my—”

“These are my problems, not yours,” I interrupt. I reach out and touch his face. He closes his eyes. “You don’t have to put up with my stupid shit.”

He catches my hand in his and holds on. “I don’t
have
to do anything. Every choice I make is my own. And it’s been that way ever since I saw you on that sidewalk, following the ant you named Helmholtz Watson. That was the day I felt like I had choices again, for the first time in a long time. And you know what I chose?”

“What?”

He opens his eyes to look at me. “I chose you. Right then and there, I chose you.”

I tremble.

“I promised myself that I would do everything to make you happy, that I would do anything to make you feel safe. You want to know why I haven’t asked you to stay? You want to know why I haven’t asked you not to go, even though every part of me is screaming to lock you up and never let you out?”

I shake my head as my eyes start to burn.

“Because,” he says harshly, “because I
know
you. I know what you’re capable of. I know what you’re going to become. You are going to make the world so much brighter, because you’ve already done the same for me. And it’s selfish of me to want to keep that to myself. It’s selfish of me to want no one else to see it. You’ve got a gift, Ty, and you need to share it with the world. You’re my best friend and you always will be, but I can’t be the thing that holds you back. I won’t be. So you’re going. You are going so everyone else can know what I already know. Do you understand?”

I nod.

“Answer me!”

“Y-yeah. Yes. Yes.”

He sighs and bows his head, burying his face in his hands. I touch his hair. His ears. Bear may be my rock, but Dom is the force that moves me.

He drops his hands to his lap. He doesn’t raise his head. “You said you hated me,” he whispers. “Please don’t hate me. I couldn’t stand it if you did.”

“I don’t. I didn’t mean it.” Out of everything that’s been said, it’s those words I wish I could take back the most. “I can’t hate you. I won’t. You’re my… you’re Dom. How can I hate you when I love you?” And as those words come out of my mouth, the meaning behind them changes into something so completely different than they had ever meant before.

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